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Diary of an injury-prone runner: Week 4 training for the New York City Marathon
If acupuncture and a strange cherry potion can't heal my calf injury, what can?
This week I tried acupuncture, because really, why the hell not.
This week I tried acupuncture, because really, why the hell not. Thinkstock
I

t's week four of my marathon training. And I'm still basically not running.

That's not to say that this week was without progress. I have increased the weight my hamstrings can handle by 10 pounds. And I found that when pressed, I am able to speedwalk a five-street-by-two-avenue distance during evening rush hour in just six sweaty minutes.

I saw my physical therapist, Steven Braverman, only two times this week. And during the second session, Braverman put me right back on that treadmill. "Are you superstitious?" he asked, his finger on the start button of the machine I attempted and failed to conquer the moment I started running last week.

"I'm nervous," I replied.

"But are you superstitious?"

"No," I said, hopping onto the rubber belt. I walked with long strides for a minute before building up to an easy jog. I let my arms hang a bit and my legs turn over one after another. It felt really good. But I was anxiously searching for the pain.

"How do you feel?" Braverman asked.

"Good... so far," I said. He increased the speed slightly and I fell into a brief rhythm.

Two minutes in and I could start to feel that nagging pull of soreness in my calf. I told Braverman. He said to focus on using my thigh muscles as I picked up and landed each foot.

I wasn't even sure what that meant, but just concentrating on my thighs instead of my calves either distracted me or actually alleviated the pressure I was putting on those fragile muscles. It wasn't a perfect run, but I made it two minutes longer than last time. Braverman considered it a success.

This week, I also padded my therapy with an acupuncturist appointment.

While I found this acupuncturist randomly, he turned out to be tailor-made for my issue. He is also a long distance runner and seemed to have an acute understanding of the wear-and-tear this sport can do to the body.

He deduced that my calf injury has probably affected, in some way or another, by my entire right side up through my hip and back. He concentrated the tiny needles up and down the area.

For the most part, I couldn't feel the needles. But there were one or two placed near a nerve, causing my body to tingle intermittently. It's not a bad feeling, just an odd one. The acupuncturist put on some classical music and let me lie there quietly for 20 minutes.

Afterward, he did this thing called cupping. Have you heard of it? It was big in 2004 after Gwyneth Paltrow was photographed with strange reddish splotches on her back. When I mentioned the celebrity connection to my acupuncturist, he seemed to take a slight offense.

"I have been doing this long before that," he said. "And I don't leave marks."

Small amounts of heat, like from a match, help to create a vacuum between the cup and the skin. The cup was then dragged around my injury, drawing the blood to the location to help the body's natural healing qualities.

He finished up the session with a little massage and sent me on my way with a bottle of tart cherry concentrate, a natural anti-inflammatory that he said I should drink twice a day.

This might totally be the mind over matter thing, but I felt absolutely fantastic after the hour-long session. The acupuncturist knew a ton about running and whatever voodoo he did to my leg made it and my whole body feel lighter by the time I left. He even said I should try a run, though he encouraged galloway running, the method named after running trainer Jeff Galloway, which has devotees run-walk-run. My acupuncturist said he uses the technique himself and has found that it not only keeps him injury-free, but also has made him faster overall. He suggested I try walking one minute and running one minute, perhaps building up to running three minutes and walking one minute, for 30 minutes.

My plan was to take Saturday off and see how I felt on Sunday. But by the time Sunday rolled around, my anxieties returned. I was feeling a low-grade soreness in my right calf after spending all of Saturday on my feet. I skipped my running trial and spent two hours at the gym going through all of my exercises, weight training, and stretching.

I'm giving myself one more dedicated week of recovery — no running, just training, stretching, physical therapy, and another acupuncture appointment. Then, on Saturday, I'm going to hit the road. It will be a major test that may decide whether or not I go through with this race or not. No pressure or anything.

Happy running, friends!

Read more training diary entries:
*Diary of an injury prone runner: Week 3 training for the New York City Marathon
*Diary of an injury prone runner: Week 2 training for the New York City Marathon
*Diary of an injury prone runner: Week 1 training for the New York City Marathon

Lauren Hansen is the multimedia editor at TheWeek.com. A graduate of Kenyon College and Northwestern University, she started her career in arts publishing and has since worked at media outlets including the BBC and Frontline.

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